January 10, 1969, saw the Beatles at the precipice — something we’ve heard before, and will again. Listening to the day’s tapes to the end, it’s clear this wasn’t a band prepared to call any kind of hiatus, even when they had every reasonable excuse to do so.
Before we move into the weekend away from the studio and their return the following Monday, here are a few loose ends, some other conversations and events from this Friday.
While Paul McCartney, John Lennon and Ringo Starr gleefully jammed away in George Harrison’s absence, Michael Lindsay-Hogg was the face of pessimism.
“Once you leave, it’s really hard to come back,” he conceded. But the director was alone in his premise.
“Not really,” replied Apple chief Neil Aspinall, who’d seen this kind of thing before. “We’re all having a meeting on Sunday. So he could be back then.”
“The box that George is in,” Neil continued, “it’s him versus John and Paul when it comes to what he’s got to do and what he has to play.”
George Martin clarified the deeper issue.
“And there’s the songwriting. Because they’re a songwriting team, and he’s his own team.”
Michael — who had been immersed in the Lennon-McCartney experience for more than a week — doubted the extent of their partnership at this point in their career.
“Nevertheless,” George countered, “they’re still a team.”
In a storyline hard to contain, George’s box wasn’t nearly as notorious as John and Yoko’s bag.
Paul continued to poke fun at the couple for their nascent bagism movement, quizzing his musical partner on logistics and therein shattering any attempt by future scholars to find deeper meaning in the shade of their sack.
“Can you see each other in the bag?” Paul asked the couple — seemingly apropos of nothing, at least on the tapes — during one of the day’s early takes of “I’ve Got a Feeling.”
“Yes,” John said, laughing. “We’re together in the bag.”
“I know, but can you see each other inside, when you’re in the bag.”
“It’s just like being under the sheets. … She generally used to use black bags where you could see out, but we couldn’t see a thing.”
Later in the day, after the couple briefly left the set, Paul speculated, to laughter, that they were “probably in a bag in his dressing room … they brought their own bag with them today.”
“Hence the expression,” Michael replied, “Papa’s got a brand-new bag.”
When Dick James referred to sheet music as part of an “expanding market,” Michael questioned just who was part of that market, opening up an illuminating conversation on the state of that industry in 1969. The NME stopped publishing sheet music charts in 1965, and in retrospect, it’s laughable to consider the market’s state as Dick describes. Even in January 1969, it was an open question just who was that market.
“Who buys sheet music?,” Michael asked. “Do I buy at home ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ to play on my piano on Saturday night with my family?”
It wasn’t just piano players in the market for sheet music, Dick claimed, but “guitar people, little groups.”
When Michael countered that it would be cheaper for enterprising bands to just buy the records, Paul said not everyone had the ear for that. “They try to find the chords on the piano, and they’re blind.”
The real issue arose when the the sheet music’s chords were wrong, something Glyn Johns said happened with “extraordinary” frequency.
On the defensive, and speaking on behalf of the publishing industry, Dick laid out the process of how the song went from record to printed paper.
“Where the boys are concerned, they don’t write the song (down), they create the song. I get an acetate or a tape when the record’s finished, and I give it to my music scribe, and he has to take it down. He’s a very good man, he’s very experienced. He can make mistakes, but in an effort to eliminate this now, we check the lyrics — John and Paul, they OK the lyric to be correct.
“That we print, and that is proofed as well. When my scribe is finished transcribing what the boys have done into a song copy, we then send it down to George Martin, and George vetoes it (i.e., he approves). Now if there’s still is a mistake after that, it truly is one of these genuine oversights.”
While the Beatles were in the midst of creating their own raw documentary, George promoted the computerized film “Permutations” by pioneering animator John Whitney, who hosted the film at Apple’s HQ the the night before. Featuring an Indian music soundtrack, George was first introduced to the film by Ravi Shankar.
“You’ve seen the three-screen thing before,” George told Michael, describing the film’s unique presentation. “It wasn’t like the psychedelic ones that just freak out and all that. It was just really great and nice to look at.
“So if you hear somebody say, ‘There’s a John Whitney looking for Mr. Harrison,’ let him in.”
No one was looking for Hugh Curry, a Canadian DJ who found himself at Twickenham in the waning moments of the day’s session and would later interview John and Yoko on the same soundstage a few days later.
At the outset, Curry sought a solo interview with Yoko, but if John could somehow maybe make an appearance, well …
“If there’s a moment while she’s doing it, I’ll wander into it,” John generously replied to the suggestion. “You just set a time to do her, and if I’m not doing anything I’ll come in on it.”
Pivoting to the subject of the box-office success of the Yellow Submarine film, Curry invoked the missing Beatle, clearly unaware of his recent departure.
“They make George look so goddamn sinister.”
After a nervous giggle from Yoko, John changed the subject, pinning down the interview for the following Tuesday, anytime after 10 a.m.
Even with a plan in place, Curry stayed put, pre-interviewing the couple.
“I heard some stuff over the phone, it sounds good,” Curry said of Yoko’s earlier vocal disruption. “Oh wow, she’s laying some new sounds on it!”
John and Yoko’s delight was short-lived.
Curry: I heard the Two Virgins thing.
Yoko: Oh, you like it?
Curry: No, I don’t.
The interviewer’s matter-of-fact response brought John to mock tears.
“I dig Cage, Stockhausen, people like that,” he said. “I thought it was too much on one level. It didn’t have enough peaks and valleys.”
Incredulous, Yoko could only repeat “are you kidding?” before John interjected, “It’s got millions of ’em.”
Curry backed off, suggesting that maybe his “head wasn’t in the right place” on that first listen.
A brief discussion of Cage’s “Indeterminacy” — John hadn’t heard it, but Yoko had, and she was sick of it — led into a discussion of Two Virgins and the difficulty of its distribution in Canada.
And speaking of record labels …
“How’s Apple doing,” Curry asked.
“Going around in circles,” John replied. “Like everything else.”